After years of competing in ultra-distance endurance events, I’ve come to realize that the mind and body can be pushed to limits far beyond our expectations. This was confirmed recently as I completed a 205 mile, mountainous run around Lake Tahoe climbing up over 40,000 vertical feet and sleeping just 90 minutes in 76 ½ hours. See full race report.
While I have challenged myself in different endurance events, I have also pushed myself in my career. Early on when faced with an insurmountable obstacle, I would ask, “Can I complete the task?” A mentor suggested I add “How” to the front of that sentence so it reads, “How can I complete the task?” It changes the dialogue completely.
Succeeding in an endurance event is no different from succeeding at work. Follow these 4 P’s to increase your odds for a triumphant outcome.
Dream big and develop your BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Steven Covey or any time-management expert will suggest you put together your Life’s List which requires time pondering what you want to accomplish. Too often we like to take the safe route and do what is easy and comfortable or just let life pass on by. In an earlier post, I wrote that “Every Once in Awhile It’s Good to be Nervous” which shows you are testing yourself and going outside the comfort zone. This is a great way to challenge one’s perceived limitations and build that list.
Bill Gates is famous for his “Think Weeks” where he goes into seclusion to rethink his goals and aspirations. While that sounds exotic and life altering, I find other ways to ponder aspirations since my wife probably wouldn’t buy into Bill’s concept. As I spend hours on a bicycle or a running trail, I find this is a good time when I can just think. And Siri helps me record those ideas. In fact, most of my blog posts have been started, and partially written while out on a run in the foothills behind my house. Where is your place to ponder and how are you capturing your ideas?
French aviator and children’s author, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Pondering about what you want to accomplish is great but at some point you have to put pen to paper and do it. I’m sure a lot of people dreamed of climbing Mt Everest before Sir Edmund Hillary did it in 1953. In the nine months leading up to the Tahoe 200, I followed a detailed plan that had me exercising 6 days a week and some weeks either riding or running over 25 hours. I had a plan. I followed the plan…for the most part.
Sometimes the shit, however, does hit the fan. People quit, strategies change, or injuries occur. If you find yourself constantly changing your plan, ask yourself, “Was the plan realistic?”
For any endurance event, getting to the start line healthy and uninjured is often more daunting than getting to the finish line. Invariably, you will get injured and need rest. An injury caught early can easily be repaired. This is the same as working on long projects when problems occur. When teaching a Project Management class, I used to quote Machiavelli “Small problems are difficult to see, but easy to fix. However, when you let these problems develop, they are easy to see but very difficult to fix.” Focus on the small things so they don’t get big.
While it is good to focus on the end goal, sometimes you need to break that goal into smaller, more manageable chunks. Put together a realistic plan and think about Plan B. Then follow the plan and adjust when necessary. Only when it was clear the start line was in sight did I shift my focus to the finish line.
Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Whether you are climbing Mt Everest, planning to be the Chief Executive Officer, or running 200 miles, you need to hone your craft. All high-performing teams have had to prepare being great. They have tried things and failed. They have learned from those failures and adjusted their strategy so it works more effectively the next time.
And, I have found that it is good to prepare when the consequences of failure are low. I remember working for a company that didn’t have a formal budgeting process but I could foresee it coming in the next few years. I told my team that we were going to be more stringent with our budget so we could practice getting it right before the organization was watching it so tightly. Two years later when the company focused heavily on budgets, we were ready.
In the 7 ½ months preparing for this race, I spent over 500 hours either riding a bike or running on trails. And, I was coming into the event in great shape as I had completed a 100 mile run two months before my training started. It wasn’t just about training the legs. I tasted countless types of food to make sure my stomach could deal with eating every 40 minutes for long periods of time. Most importantly, I prepared myself mentally. It is a challenge because rarely do training runs put you in the same mental state as the actual event. This is when it helps to put things in perspective. I was out on a 30 mile run and at mile 10 wanted to quit. I heard my inner voice whining about how I was tired, how my legs hurt, how hot it was, and so on. I slowed down and thought of my friend who had recently been diagnosed with breast cancer. She has a legitimate reason to complain as she had no choice in what she was going through. I had a choice. Five minutes later I was no longer hot, tired, or sore and completed the run.
Preparing is about finding what works and what doesn’t. And then developing your alternative plans for when things go wrong. It’s better to find out the pitfalls while testing than when live. You have to ask yourself: What if? What could go wrong? And if it does, what are you going to do about it.
Seth Godin, author on topics such as leadership and marketing, said, “The only thing worse than starting something and failing, is not starting something.” I’ve often said, I would rather shoot for the moon and get 75% there than shoot for that hilltop and reach it. This could be why NASA has never wanted to hire me.
People often think the race is the hardest part, and while sometimes it can be, it is generally all the training leading up to the race that is challenging. It is the hours of training, the stress of injuries, or the pain your muscles experience after a hard workout. This is similar to working on a long project at work where you plan and prepare and are finally happy to go live with that new system. Hard word done early pays big dividends.
If you have a solid plan and you have prepared well, the performance will be enjoyable. It won’t be perfect but it will go more smoothly.
Running 205 miles is hard. But so is running a marathon or a half marathon or a 5K if you’ve never done it before. Ponder about what your next big goal is, put together a plan and prepare to perform to that plan. Then, and as the Nike ad so eloquently says, Just Do It. Sometimes limitations